On January 27, another inmate was found hanged in his cell at the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, the ninth inmate to die there in the past month. For Governor Tate Reeves, that was enough.
The same day, in his State of the State address, Reeves said he was shutting down the most violent unit in the facility, Unit 29, where three inmates committed suicide in their cells in the past week.
A Violent Month
Already known as one of the most dangerous prison units in a state with a severe staffing shortage, the series of deaths at Parchman started on December 31, when an inmate died after being stabbed during a riot.
Many of the deaths are gang-related, triggered by confrontations between the Black Gangster Disciples and the Vice Lords, according to prison officials. Every prison in Mississippi went into lockdown after the rioting and fatalities.
At the time, the county coroner called the situation “surreal,” noting every time the phone rang that it seemed like another inmate was dead.
In addition to the deaths, two inmates managed to escape during the chaos, but they were since recaptured.
A Leadership Crisis
Reeves admitted there a “leadership crisis” at Parchman, saying the interim head of the Corrections Department is making some changes. The search is on nationally for a new head, he says. Reeves also acknowledged that the prison’s second in command retired this month.
The governor visited Parchman last week. He said steps taken to improve conditions at the facility include bringing in maintenance crews from across Mississippi to make repairs, along with relocating inmates throughout the prison to help prevent violent outbreaks. This includes fixing toilets, preventing rain from entering the buildings, and repairing the electrical system.
Other steps include a larger crackdown on cellphones, contraband items prisoners used to communicate and coordinate actions during the riots. Every warden and deputy warden are now on 12-hour shifts so that corrections officers always have leadership present and available. Since some guards acted with the inmates during the riots, more screening of corrections officers for any gang affiliation will occur.
“These problems did not spring up overnight, and they will not be solved overnight, but the necessary work has begun. The lives and dignity of all within this system must be protected,” said Reeves at the press conference.
The outcry over the violence and inmate deaths attracted the attention of celebrities, including Jay Z and Yo Gotti, and they helped inmates file a lawsuit over inhumane treatment. Twenty-nine inmates are suing Parchman, with Jay Z and Gotti funding the attorneys. The two rappers also got involved in a prison reform rally held on January 24.
The lawsuit states that the “plaintiff’s lives are in peril,” due to the violence and disgusting conditions at the facility. It alleges inmates are dying because Mississippi refuses to fund its prisons. This results in violence due to understaffing, according to the lawsuit.
If you or a loved one suffered death or catastrophic injuries at the hands of the police, prison guards or jail staff, you may be entitled to damages. Visit our inmate abuse information page for more details. Ready to see if you have a case? CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.